7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia
Helicopter Parenting. Tiger Moms. Parents fighting on the soccer field. We need a way out of the competitive, fearful vacuum we find ourselves in as parents.
Claude Knobler’s memoir tells the story of bringing his adopted son Nati into his family of four. After five years of trying to turn his joyful and free-spirited African son into the quiet, neurotic Jewish kid he himself had been, Knobler learns to take a step back, exhale, and enjoy his children for who they are.
Dive into this excerpt of More Love (Less Panic) by Claude Knobler!
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Less Than Perfect Is Perfect Enough: How Not Yelling at My Son for Almost Six Whole Seconds Taught Me It’s Okay to Get It All Wrong
Let me tell you a really awful story about my wife.
It’s a horrible story, really and truly awful, so before I begin, I’d like to tell you that I really do love my wife. She is, in spite of the story I’m about to tell, a wonderful woman, wife, and mother. For many years now, she’s been the breadwinner in our house and if it weren’t for the work she does every day at her office, I would never have been able to write books like this that tell awful, awful stories that make her look really, really bad.
So again, let me make it clear to you that I love my wife and that no matter what I’m about to say, I really do hope you will believe me when I tell you that she is an amazing mom.
Okay, here’s the awful story.
My wife and I were having a hard time with Nati. We were yelling a lot. We were miserable a lot. Worst of all, we were becoming the sorts of parents we’d never, ever wanted to be.
If there was one small bit of luck in all that screaming and yelling, it was that we ended up in a very unplanned way to alternate in our misery. In the wake of the massive change of having added an exuberant, loud, goofy five-year-old boy into our once quiet and peaceful family, at one time or another either Mary or I would find ourselves struggling deeply.
Whoever’s turn it was to panic or become frustrated would inevitably lose their temper with Nati, and then, filled with remorse and regret, turn to the other and fall apart. Sometimes Mary would come to me feeling overwhelmed or guilty about how she’d lost her cool with Nati. Then, the next week, it would be my turn and I’d come staggering into our room to tell her how hard I was finding it to be the sort of father I wanted to be. Still, pretty much every day, either Mary or I was struggling with our new son.
He was just so determined. He wanted more of everything. He thought nothing we did was good enough. He was louder, needier, and more demanding than anything we’d ever experienced. When we gave him anything, no matter how big or nice, he was not, for a single second, satiated. If we took him to get ice cream, he wanted three scoops instead of two. If we gave him three scoops, he wanted toppings. If we gave him toppings, he wanted a toy. If we have him three scoops, toppings, and a toy, he wanted to choose which car seat he used on the way home. If we let him choose which car seat he wanted on the way home from having four scoops of ice cream with toppings and a new toy, he wanted to drive the car himself. And when we told him that state law made it impossible for us to let him drive without a license, he told us we were being unfair, argued, and sulked. We simply could not win.
So we said, “No.” All the time.
“No, you can’t wat the whole cake.”
“No, Nati, that’s your sister’s toy, put it down.”
“No, Nati, those are my keys, I need those.”
No. No. No.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “No” to your kid, particularly when he’s demanding to drive your car. What really bothered me was that we seemed to be angry all the time. We seemed to be yelling all the time. Nati seemed to be forcing us to say “No” on a constant basis, and our “Nos” were getting louder and louder every day.
Mary told me that she felt the same way, and so we decided to give ourselves a challenge.
We decided to see how long we could go without criticizing Nati or yelling at him. Sort of a contest, really.
I looked at my watch. I told Mary the time. We figured if we could go a day or two without losing our tempers, we’d be able to slowly work our way back toward being the calm, rational human beings we could still dimly remember once having been.
Our contest began.
It did not go well for Mary.
Six seconds is how long my wife lasted. Six seconds, timed on my watch, before she turned to Nati, and in an angry, harsh tone shouted at our son, “Nati, no, don’t do that!” I don’t even remember what the kid was doing: teasing Gracie, playing with a nice, trying to buy a private jet on Amazon . . . no idea, but I do know that my wife lasted just six seconds before she’d shouted the word “No!”
Do I judge her for that? Hell yes, I do. What kind of awful person can’t make a full minute without criticizing her own child? What kind of awful human being can’t go ten seconds without yelling at an orphan – and orphan, for God’s sake – that he’s misbehaving? It’s reprehensible, is what it is.
And I would have told Mary so, had she not beaten me by four seconds.
That’s right. Two seconds after I suggested to my wife that we see how long we could go without criticizing Nati or shouting at him, I shouted the word no. Two seconds. One, two: NO!
I have no idea what it was that Nati managed to do in two seconds. All I know is that I said this:
“Okay, Mary, let’s see how long we can go without shouting at Nati. It’s seven o’clock. Starting now, we’ll – Nati, NO! Put that down – how long, dammit.”
Two seconds and I swear I’m not rounding down.
And that was when I was focused on not yelling at my kid. Those two seconds of restraint were the sign of real effort and discipline. I was much, much worse when I wasn’t trying.
You may now feel free to judge me. And my wife.
Unless . . .
Unless you’ve ever yelled at your children at the top of your voice that you wanted some quiet in this house, RIGHT NOW!
Yelling for quiet is one of those truly humbling moments that you really don’t get to experience until you have kids.
Excerpted from More Love, Less Panic by Claude Knobler. Copyright © 2014 by Claude Knobler. Excerpted by permission of Jeremy P. Tarcher, a division of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.